Legal Options Following a Dog Bite Injury

On Behalf of | Sep 9, 2020 | Injuries

Each year, dogs bite almost five million Americans. Many of these attacks cause serious physical and emotional injuries.

The physical injuries usually include deep puncture wounds as well as severe tearing lacerations. Even if reconstructive surgery is successful, the physical scars usually remain. Animal attacks often leave emotional scars as well, particularly among younger victims. These wounds often include an unnatural fear of all dogs, nightmares, and flashbacks.

Because of these serious wounds, a Lexington personal injury attorney might be able to obtain substantial compensation for victims. This compensation often includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Scienter

If the owner knew the animal was potentially vicious and the animal attacks another person, the owner could be liable for damages. Evidence of knowledge often includes pre-bite behavior, such as:

  • Vicious growling,
  • Aggressive barking,
  • Sudden lunging, and
  • Baring of teeth.

Insurance companies often argue that such attacks were inevitable and not preventable. However, a well-trained dog should respond to commands like “heel” and “stop.” Alternatively, the owner should have the dog on a leash or behind a fence.

Since the owner’s negligence clearly plays a role in scienter (knowledge) claims, damages in these claims are often rather high. Many jurors are pet owners themselves, and they often view strict liability claims as penal toward owners. More on that below.

Ordinary Negligence

These claims often involve third party negligence. Examples include a teacher who allows children to play near a strange dog or a landlord who looks the other way if a tenant has an aggressive dog prohibited under the lease agreement.

Negligence is basically a lack of care. Victim/plaintiffs must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that the defendant’s conduct fell below this standard.

Let’s return to the above examples. If a teacher let students play near a seemingly harmless dog, such behavior is careless but probably not legally negligent. Likewise, the landlord is probably not negligent if she allows tenants to keep large dogs which are acceptable under the lease.

Negligence claims often give rise to third party liability. The school district is legally responsible for the teacher’s negligence, and the property owner is legally responsible for the manager’s negligence. Third party liability theories like respondeat superior (let the master answer) are especially important in catastrophic injury claims, like wrongful death matters.

Negligence Per Se

Lexington and most other Fayette County municipalities have strict animal restraint ordinances, such as leash and fence laws. In some cases, these ordinances might require chaining a dog. If the owner violates such a law and that violation substantially causes injury, the owner could be liable for damages as a matter of law.

Leash law violations are especially common. Many owners assume that public parks are leash-free zones. Similarly, area jogging and hiking trail rules vary significantly. Some of these trails allow unleashed animals, some only allow leashed dogs, and some prohibit dogs altogether.

Negligence per se claims might involve third party liability as well. In catastrophic injury claims, individual owners might not have enough homeowners’ insurance to provide fair compensation. Or, they might not have any homeowner’s insurance at all. Vicarious liability gives these victims an additional source of recovery.

Strict Liability

Kentucky has one of the broadest strict liability laws in the country. According to Section 258.235 of the Kentucky Statutes, an “owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person, livestock, or other property shall be responsible for that damage.”

Knowledge of potential viciousness and negligence are both irrelevant. So, almost all victims can seek damages under this statute.

There are some drawbacks. As mentioned, some jurors view strict liability laws as penal. Additionally, the comparative fault defense, which usually hinges on the victim’s provocation, is relevant in strict liability claims.

Significantly, in this context, provocation is an affirmative, physical act. People do not accidentally provoke dogs by moving suddenly or making loud noises. Moreover, in many courts, the physical provocation must be so extreme that it borders on torture.

Dog bite victims usually have several legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions.